Learning to Balance Gratitude & Action

Posted on February 8, 2017

I have to remind myself that not everyone thinks like me. Do you have any quirks?

 

 

Here, I’ll start, I don’t like to step on or drive over the painted wheelchairs in parking spaces. I also cannot keep myself from turning tails-up pennies to heads up for the next superstitious/hopeful person. Sometimes I whisper thank you to green lights and when I pass people on the street I’ll think, “You once toddled across a floor to someone else’s profound delight. I hope you are still loved like that.”

 

I may seethe and say awful things sometimes, but mostly I think about good things. Trying to figure out how to manage the unpredictable flow of questions and commentary as a parent has become way more complicated for me since the election. There are times when I feel like I genuinely lack the air and spirit necessary to get to the end of an explanation of hate or indifference. I have no intention of giving up, but giving myself a spiritual head rest is critical.

 

The other day I stood outside and waited as a mix of snow and misty rain landed on my hair. It reminded me of the thing in middle school where we’d pretend to crack an egg on someone’s head and revel in the creepy sensation of hands acting as dripping eggs. That whole thing was a natural way to experience something outside of reality. No drugs, no lies, just touch and trust. I let myself feel the weight of the snow on my hair, the way it made certain strands thread together and press down on my temple. Droplets fell and landed on my eyelashes and cheeks. I smiled and listened as cars passed.

 

I was drawing a bath for Briar to soothe her sore back, we swished the Epsom salts in the water together and marveled at how strange it felt. We wondered aloud why it helped. I didn’t lament not understanding science or the human body, I just shrugged, smiled, and said, “I have no idea, but how cool, right?” She beamed back at me nodding.

 

Finley and I drove to Target the other day while her sisters were at dance class. She had a small purse clutched in her hand as we ventured to find a treat. We walked up and down the aisles for twenty-five minutes. After many stops and starts she looked at me, “I guess I don’t really ned anything.”

 

I ended up buying her a book that I thought we could read together (I’m a sucker for Mo Willems) . She devoured it. I melted listening to her pronounce the French words peppered throughout. She would stretch her mouth and raise her eyebrows and over-enunciate, “flaaan-eur” and I would catch myself holding my mouth open as she did.

 

I suppose in the end there are no recipes or easy how-tos on handling the need to be engaged politically and the desire to be sustained personally. For me, it’s been realizing that it is ok to shift gears as I need to because a huge part of my own political activism is deliberate participation in the lives of my girls and my own self-care.

 

What about you? How are you managing it all?

A Buzz in the Air

Posted on January 30, 2017

Resharing from Instagram because when we forget to share the good things out loud, sometimes I think we can also cheat ourselves out of feeling them.

I was running an errand a couple blocks from my office. I decided to walk because lately walks haven’t really been in the mix on account of my schedule and the weather. It was such a departure to move without hurrying. I got to the end of the sidewalk, looked up, and gasped. It was cold enough to see my breath and I was staring at a bee hive. I thought of reading Winnie the Pooh as a little girl, of my grandfather wanting to have his copy of the book near him as he was in hospice care, and of my girls and our discovery walks. I slowly crossed the street and then stared up at the hive. I felt small, but in a good way, like the world was so much larger than me and full of possibility and opportunity. One of the trickiest things of parenting may be not allowing the events of the day to swallow you whole.


I can’t stop looking up in wonder, I can’t give into hopelessness. There is honey to be had and honey to make, and honey to share.

Let’s be…

A List of Things I Love

Posted on January 23, 2017

In an attempt to approximate the sensation of climbing into a bed with fresh sheets, biting into a sandwich someone else made for you, opening the dishwasher to see that someone already unloaded it, or the rush of endorphins on a morning walk, I am going to share a few things that bring me joy. A little bit of kitchen stuff, a little bit of health stuff, and a couple of other things.

 

A steep and wooded trail in Vermont with sunlight peeking through the trees.
  1. Bees Knees Salted Honey – I bought it at a store nearby that I love called Healthy Living. It isn’t super salty, but every time I squeeze it onto a piece of toast or drizzle it over chicken I feel like I am using liquid gold.
  2. Chipotle Fabanaise – This is another Healthy Living find. I am not vegan, but this is.  They make incredible mustards too. This is creamy with a little bit of kick. I sometimes add more sriracha and dip carrots in it. Sean looks on in horror.
  3. Ginger Root – I love having one of these guys knocking about in the kitchen. I grate it and put it in tea, shave some to add a little mystery to a soup, and honestly, sometimes I just look at it on the butcher block and think, “I bought that for myself” and I remember I matter.
  4. Wood shavings – This winter Sean helped his mom make a candle holder from a birch log. He brought me the shavings from the log and they were like Martha Stewart meets Bear Grylls wonderful for fire starter. He had the girls package up three containers for me for Christmas and I sprinkle them in the woodstove.
  5. Castor Oil – I bought it to use for a thing I had this fall and then it sat. One day I began putting it on my feet after I showered. It’s kind of amazing and I no longer feel shame about hard feet.
  6. Pretty Matches – This is exactly what it sounds like. When my parents stayed at our camp they bought a couple of boxes of matches to have by the woodstove. One has a goose and the other a lamb, I think. They are whimsical to look at and, when I take one out to strike it, they are about an inch and a half longer than regular matches. These aren’t the exact ones I have, but they’re close. What can I say, they make me feel fancy!
  7. Kombucha – Sean says it tastes like despondence, failure, and rotten vinegar. My favorite flavor is ginger. This company is located in Vermont and has ties to Oregon, so it felt like fate for this Oregon-born, Vermont-loving girl.
  8. Vibrant Belts – The ones I love are called Tech Web Belts. We buy the men’s version, ok, scratch that, Sean buys them for himself and then I wear them. We have red, silver, sage, orange, and green. He bought me an aqua version for Christmas. He has borrowed it! Anyway, they are super sturdy, handsome, and, if you are in this neck of the woods I recommend buying them at FSO. You might even get to meet Algonquin, the sweet bundle of Golden Retriever goodness that recently joined the fam.
  9. Glytone skin products – Stuff that doesn’t make my skin break out or dry out is tough to find. I love this stuff. I have done ZERO searches on if it’s full of bad stuff, don’t ruin this one for me. My skin gets freshened up and feels healthier. My favorites are in the Rejuvenation series. I did not buy it as a set, just ordered here and there.
  10. Hello and goodbye kisses – A few months ago Sean and I were having ships in the night, overstressed, strangers in the same house kind of stuff. He said, “What if we both commit to kissing one another when we first see each other or when we are leaving? We should be able to manage that, right?” We could, we did, we have, it works!
  11. Wide-Tooth Comb – Having a wide-tooth comb in the shower has changed my life. A tiny thing, but effective.
  12. Stocked Bird Feeders – Everyone in this house loves it when there are birds eating from the feeders. The cats, the girls, Beso, even Sean will gasp, “Look, the blue jay, the black squirrel, and the cardinal are in the tree together!”
  13. Voluntarily Extended Bedtimes Routines – This isn’t something I can do all the time, but when I make the decision to not rush and instead free myself to the rhythm of the stories, cuddles, and requests, I always end up better for it.

 

I don’t know if any of this will change anyone’s life, but I do think to take a look at what things consistently bring you joy is a worthwhile exercise. It’s surprising how much of what pleases me is related to ceremony and ritual. I want to remember that because it means that happy doesn’t appear in a minute, but lives in the layers and echoes of repetition.

What makes you happy?

Am I doing enough good?

Posted on January 22, 2017

This year the girls have been interested in knowing what I am doing at work, responding to my questions about what gear they need to bring to school with questions of their own.

“What are you doing today? Meetings or emails?”

“Is this a ‘you already have the job’ or a ‘you are fighting to win the job’ kind of day?”

“Are you going to talk to people you like today or will it be a hard day?”

Sometimes it feels like it slows me down, other times it genuinely helps me prepare for the day. A few weeks ago we were working on a proposal for a faith-centered retirement community. I try to find connections that allow me to feel comfortable speaking in the first-person about an organization. I thought it might be a stretch: I haven’t attended church outside of funerals or weddings in 30 years and I get uncomfortable with people who lead with their faith in bios. As I researched it quickly became personal, some of my most vivid and foundational memories have to do with church and sermons.

A hopeful image, with a view of Vermont mountains with a system of hearts drawn in the sand by hand.

We all have a person in our life who shines more than any other, and I don’t mean spouse or child, I mean before that—a teacher, a sibling, parent, somebody. For me, it was my grandpa. He was wise, wicked, ageless as he never lost his ability to delight. He also manages to continue to counsel me after his death. I am grateful for the mornings I spent at the feet of he and my grandma, as they discussed current events and injustice, at their different homes in the retirement community where they spent their last two decades. It was a retirement community for people who had devoted their professional lives to religious organizations.

This center that I was researching was based on Jewish values, and their founders said, “We must continually question, are we doing enough good?” That hit me squarely in the chest because I think a lot of the time we float along as if there are finite responsibilities and clearly defined milestones that indicate success or completion.

Are we doing enough good?

I thought about it in the context of living and even turning it to a selfish perspective:
Does my kindness extend to self?

When I really thought about it I got excited. The past 12 months have felt like a tightrope of either or, them vs us, good and bad. The things that I need to improve on and the places that I want to grow don’t necessarily match up with other people. That doesn’t make them wrong, my goals or other people. I don’t want to run a half marathon and I don’t plan to quit swearing, but I do want to learn more about policy. I don’t want to feel that I can’t engage in political discourse because I don’t know enough. I didn’t march and as I read about the March I witnessed criticism of every kind—they shouldn’t have marched, they didn’t have to march, why would they march, they only marched, their signs were wrong, they treated it like a party, too angry, too happy.

None of what is ahead is easy or clear, it also will not come with any pats on the back or discernible moments of accomplishment. The triumph or satisfaction needs to be tied into something that is self-directed, holding ourselves accountable, whether we’re trying to quit smoking, understanding our own bias, or something else. As I consider it in the “Are we doing enough good” context, I see that my best hope is to determine what that means to me and to push myself to be able to say yes or “I’m trying.” It will include being good to myself to keep me healthy for the work, it will include both listening and stepping back. I want what I learn to be stronger than my guilt if there are twinges of guilt I want to use them to influence my future actions.  There will be other people who will interpret this very differently than I will. I’m working on how to manage the way I react.

My mom said in a comment on Facebook the other day in reference to this article about continuing the work after the march, “Yes. I am pondering this. What will I focus on, where can my impact be greatest?”

A bird sits along high atop a tree on a cold, wintry day, a beacon of strength.

We won’t always be shoulder to shoulder with people who share our views, we may be alone in a Facebook thread where nothing we say seems to be heard, we may not always feel welcome. As I look back on the last 6 months I see friends; men and women, who moved beyond their comfort zone to speak out against racism, sexism, and classism. As it happened I felt like people were being too quiet, but now I see they were going at their pace and that they did get there, I made the mistake of judging them in that moment for not going at my pace. I hope that if we go back to the question of “Am I doing enough good” we will be able to stay focused on our own growth and, hopefully, making the world better.

Tomorrow

Posted on January 19, 2017

Tomorrow will be different.

 

There is no silver lining, I don’t even think we know how bad it will actually get.

 

But there is a tomorrow. I am going to hang on to the idea that each day, each tomorrow, I get an opportunity to make things different. It will not always be in big ways, or with legions of people. It may be one person in one softly spoken conversation.

 

I won’t stop just because it’s different, but I also won’t sugarcoat how deeply troubled I am.

 

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